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Modern Korean Music

Western classical music was first introduced to Korea in late 19th century when Christianity made its way into the peninsula. When the first missionaries from the Presbyterian and Methodist Churches arrived in Korea in 1885, they started to teach Koreans Christian hymns. This event also coincided with the introduction of Western classical music in Korea.

Soon Western classical music was heard everywhere in Korea, and by the turn of the century, a song, or a "lied", became the dominant form of music. A composer and violinist, Hong Nanp'a published Pongsonhwa, the first Western-style song in 1919. Among the famous song composers during this period were Ch'ae Tong-son, Hyon Che-myong, and Kim Se-hyong. Yi Hung-yol turned some popular songs into music with accompaniment. Both Kim Song-t'ae and Kim Tong-jin established a song and accompaniment genre as a popular musical form in Korea.

In the 1950s, Na Un-yong presented works based on modern compositional techniques, such as a 12-tone system, while attempting to incorporate elements from Korean traditional music. Around this time, Ahn Eaktay, the composer of the Korean national anthem, and Yun Isang both started to actively participate in the musical scenes of Spain and Germany respectively. Following these composers' lead, Kang Sok-hui, Paek Pyong-dong, and Kim Chong-gil were also instrumental in introducing Western classical music to Korea via the International Society of Contemporary Music.

Since the 1980s, Korean traditional music has drawn particular interest from Western classical music composers. Due to its growing economic prosperity and its newly acquired status as one of the world's leading nations following its hosting of the 1988 Summer Olympics, Koreans in general have been increasingly more interested in discovering and formulating the roots of their unique cultural heritage.

 In tune with this changing social ambiance, several composers such as Na In-yong, Yi Kon-yong, Park Chong-son, and Lee Young-jo have actively pursued incorporating Korean traditional musical elements into their Western-style classical musical compositions and performances. Furthermore, these composers have made considerable efforts in elevating Korean music from its particularistic ethnic or regional appeal to one that can solicit more global interest.


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